Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Vacuous Tautologies of Ayn Rand & "Atlas Shrugged"

Several years ago I walked into our local Panera Bread and saw two men sipping coffee, one of whom was wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed "Ayn Rand Was Right."

Are you kidding me? A few Randians may think she was a wise philosopher, but in all my years of philosophical studies her name was never mentioned. Now, because the movie "Atlas Shrugged" is soon coming out, we'll be hearing her name more. Not among professional thinkers, of course, who find her writings inane.

Here is David Bentley Hart, in First Things. Rand's "philosophy" is called "Objectivism." After seeing the man in the Rand t-shirt I checked her out. Then left her thinking, so I thought, forever. It took only a few sentences to dismiss her. I now warn you: If you are ever talking with a university philosophy professor never utter the name "Ayn Rand."

Hart writes:

"And, really, what can one say about Objectivism? It isn't so much a philosophy as what someone who has never actually encountered philosophy imagines a philosophy might look like: good hard axiomatic absolutes, a bluff attitude of intellectual superiority, lots of simply atomic premises supposedly immune to doubt, immense and inflexible conclusions, and plenty of assertions about what is "rational" or "objective" or "real." Oh, and of course an imposing brnad name ending with an "-ism." Rand was so eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems of ontology, epistemology, or logic that she believed she could construct an irrefutable system around a collection of simple maxims like "existence is identity" and "consciousness is identification," all gathered from the damp fenlands between vacuous tautology and catastrophic philosophical error. She was simply unaware that there were any genuine philosophical problems that could not be summarily solved by flatly proclaiming that this is objectivity, this is rational, this is scientific, in the peremptory tones of an Obersturmfuhrer drilling his commandoes."

"Vacuous tautology." Remember the "Sphinx" in "Mystery Men?" The Sphinx taught us the following:
- "To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn."
- "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions."
- "You must lash out with every limb, like the octopus who plays the drums."